I was at a bazaar at Fort Bonifacio yesterday and noticed several food vendors selling â€œFood for the Godsâ€ so I decided to buy several of them and compare them against each other in a Marketmanila taste-testâ€¦ First of all, these are nothing more than Date & Walnut Bars, so whoever came up with the name â€œFood for the Godsâ€ was of the â€œBicol Expressâ€ ilkâ€¦ great marketing, if you ask me. For a predominantly Catholic country with supposedly only one God, itâ€™s amusing that we would take so readily to a food for the other â€œGodsâ€â€¦ heehee, I am kidding, of course. If any God had too much of this confection they would sink out of the heavens due to its density and caloric count! As with other popular sweets/desserts/breads, it seems this has also evolved over the years. In the â€œold days,â€ say 20 years ago, I only recall the really heavy, very moist, sweet foil wrapped versions that one would keep in the fridge and consume by the square inch at most. Today, things seem to be lightening up and the sweetness quotient is through the roof! Air and sugar in abundance is definitely the evolutionary theme of sweets in the Philippines. I think it is directly correlated with the drop in average household incomes. Here are three commercially purchased versions of this confection and one that I whipped up myself from a Maida Heatter recipe.
First up are Food for the Gods purchased at â€œKitchen a la Ching.â€ Because they sold them in individually wrapped portions, I purchased two of these to taste test at home. Each serving was roughly 30 grams in weight, inclusive of wrapper. Each portion was tightly wrapped in foil paper, then covered in red cellophane. It was kind of like unwrapping a longganisa, in that once opened, the contents of the foil looked positively smushed and abused. A medium dark color, it was dense, heavy and sweet, it had lots of pieces of nuts but I actually couldnâ€™t tell if they were really walnuts. The characteristic undulations of a walnut and their dark skin seemed absentâ€¦ As I poked through the piece with a fork, I found hardly any chopped dates at all. Bizarrely, some of the parts of the FFTGs actually appeared dryish, almost as though this had been previously frozen or refrigerated or perhaps just wasnâ€™t as fresh as it should have been. The darker color must have been due to brown rather than white sugar, which, if true, should have resulted in a less cloyingly sweet confection. At PHP16 each, this would have cost roughly PHP533 per kilo. Based on this sample, I personally wouldnâ€™t buy from them again.
Next were FFTGs from Mary Grace. Better known for her ensaimadas, she has broadened her product line. At her table, I actually had to ask the sales lady if they sold FFTGs as it did not appear obvious from the products on display. She answered yes and pointed me to these huge pouffy dark brown squares. You would forgive me if my first guess was that they were light colored brownies. Sold in batches of eight in a clear plastic container, they weighed about 250 grams in all (about 32 grams per piece) and cost PHP127 or PHP508 per kilo. They were definitely much more cakey than any of the samples I tried yesterday. They had lots of nuts (though I think they were real walnuts) and just 2-3 puny pieces of chopped dates in the piece that I tried. The darkness of dough could have been from brown sugar and possibly molasses but it made it hard to discern any chopped dates at all. This version was less sweet than others. It was quite airy. The sticker on the top of the plastic container says it all â€“ â€œSoft to the Bite Just-Baked Freshnessâ€¦Alwaysâ€ Yipes! Not all baked goods are supposed to be soft to the bite, and certainly I would not apply that description to heavily packed fruit and nut bars or dense brownies for that matter. I would even consider this tag line a stretch for an ensaimada, but then again, Mary Grace has the newer generation airy version compared to the older heavier types of ensaimada. Can you imagine if they made French bread that was â€œsoft to the biteâ€??? Compared to the previous sample, these were, however, freshly baked. Personally, I wouldnâ€™t buy FFTG from this vendor again.
The third commercial example that I purchased was from St. Clementâ€™s Kitchen. With 12 small portions to a box that weighed 200 grams total (less than 20 grams each per piece)at PHP170, this cost a whopping PHP850 per kilo. This version had a light golden brown color on the surface and throughout the dough. The dough itself was rather airy and while it had lots of walnuts and bigger pieces of dates, the latter were widely spaced. This recipe definitely used white sugar and possibly the egg whites were whipped separately and folded in to give it lightness and volume…or some other bakers tricks were applied. This lacked the characteristic density of traditionally crafted fruit/nut barsâ€¦but it did taste pretty good. It was the sweetest of the three versions that I purchased. It was correctly sized very small as the richness meant you could only eat so much at one time. Nicely packaged in a small box, these were the best of the three FFTGs I bought. I would possibly buy these again if I had a serious craving for FFTGs, but was too lazy to make them myself. Their premium price suggests they know when they have an edge on the rest of the market…
Finally, I decided I should make some FFTG myself once I got home (particularly since I seem to be up the wazoo with dates in stock in the fridge) just so that I could truly compare the bazaar bought vs. real home made. I used a recipe by Maida Heatter (doyenne of cookiedom) and the result was a truly fruit and nut filled bar that was dense, flavorful and not overly sweet. The essence of dates was palatable and the crunch of nuts a constant feature while you were chewingâ€¦as opposed to a crunch/chew punctuation in the more cakey versions of FFTGs. My version was thinner than I would have liked. Next time I will use a smaller pan and make thicker bars, which in turn might be a tad moister as well. I cut the bars too big so you get just a bit too much of a good thingâ€¦ My 9 x 13 inch pan yielded 24 large bars that weighed 750 grams total and couldnâ€™t have cost more than PHP250-300 to make or PHP325-400 per kilo. And with two generous cups of pitted and chopped Medjool dates and two generous cups of chopped walnuts, the resulting bars had 2-3 times the amount of nuts and dates compared to the commercially purchased versions. They had practically no cake. I would definitely make this again, and use the savings to purchase a lot of commercial brownies for sale out there…some of which look positively terrifying.